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verb (used without object)
  1. to bend the knee or body or incline the head, as in reverence, submission, salutation, recognition, or acknowledgment.
  2. to yield; submit: to bow to the inevitable.
  3. to bend or curve downward; stoop: the pines bowed low.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to bend or incline (the knee, body, or head) in worship, submission, respect, civility, agreement, etc.: He bowed his head to the crowd.
  2. to cause to submit; subdue; crush.
  3. to cause to stoop or incline: Age had bowed his head.
  4. to express by a bow: to bow one's thanks.
  5. to usher (someone) with a bow (usually followed by in, out, etc.): They were bowed in by the footman.
  6. to cause to bend; make curved or crooked.
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  1. an inclination of the head or body in salutation, assent, thanks, reverence, respect, submission, etc.
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Verb Phrases
  1. bow out, to resign a position or withdraw from a job, competition, obligation, etc.: He bowed out after two terms as governor.
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  1. bow and scrape, to be excessively polite or deferential.
  2. make one's bow, to appear publicly for the first time, as a performer, politician, etc.: The young pianist made her bow last night to an appreciative audience.
  3. take a bow, to step forward or stand up in order to receive recognition, applause, etc.: The conductor had the soloists take a bow.
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Origin of bow1

before 900; Middle English bowen (v.), Old English būgan; cognate with Dutch buigen; akin to German biegen, Gothic biugan, Old Norse buga, etc.
Related formsbowed·ness, nounbow·ing·ly, adverb
Can be confusedbough bow


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Synonym study

1. See bend1.


  1. a flexible strip of wood or other material, bent by a string stretched between its ends, for shooting arrows: He drew the bow and sent the arrow to its target.
  2. an instrument resembling this, used for various purposes, as rotating a drill or spindle, or loosening entangled or matted fibers.
  3. a bend or curve.
  4. Also called bowknot. a looped knot composed of two or more loops and two ends, as for tying together the ends of a ribbon or string.
  5. any separate piece of looped, knotted, or shaped gathering of ribbon, cloth, paper, etc., used as a decoration, as on a package, dress, or the like.
  6. a long rod, originally curved but now nearly straight, with horsehairs stretched from one end to the other, used for playing on a musical instrument of the violin and viol families.
  7. a single movement of such a device over the strings of a violin, viol, or the like.
  8. bow tie.
  9. something curved or arc-shaped.
  10. a saddlebow.
  11. an archer; bowman: He is the best bow in the county.
  12. temple2(def 3).
  13. a U-shaped piece for placing under an animal's neck to hold a yoke.
  14. Building Trades. a flexible rod used for laying out large curves.
  15. the part of a key grasped by the fingers.
  16. the loop on the stem of a watch by which the watch is attached to a chain or the like.
  17. a rainbow.
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  1. curved outward at the center; bent: bow legs.
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verb (used with or without object)
  1. to bend into the form of a bow; curve.
  2. Music. to perform by means of a bow upon a stringed instrument.
  3. Textiles Obsolete. to loosen by passing a vibrating bow among entangled fibers.
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Origin of bow2

before 1000; Middle English bowe (noun), Old English boga; cognate with Dutch boog, German Bogen, Old Norse bogi; akin to bow1
Related formsbowed·ness, nounbow·less, adjectivebow·like, adjective
Can be confusedbode bowed


  1. Nautical, Aeronautics.
    1. the forward end of a vessel or airship.
    2. either side of this forward end, especially with reference to the direction of a distant object: a mooring two points off the port bow.
  2. bows, Nautical. the exterior of the forward end of a vessel, especially one in which the hull slopes back on both sides of the stem.
  3. the foremost oar in rowing a boat.
  4. Also called bowman, bow oar. the person who pulls that oar.
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  1. of or relating to the bow of a ship.
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  1. bows on, (of a ship) with the bow foremost: The vessel approached us bows on.
  2. bows under, (of a ship) shipping water at the bow: The ship was bows under during most of the storm.
  3. on the bow, Nautical. within 45° to the heading of the vessel.
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Origin of bow3

1620–30; < Low German boog (noun) or Dutch boeg or Danish bov; see bough


  1. Clara,1905–65, U.S. film actress: known as the “It Girl.”
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

nod, nose, hunch, defer, kowtow, acquiesce, comply, yield, relent, bend, accept, surrender, succumb, capitulate, bending, obeisance, salaam, angle, arch, curve

Examples from the Web for bow

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • It was a beautiful cameo of Alcibiades, with the quiver and bow of Eros.


    Lydia Maria Child

  • A grievous error it is to suppose that Cupid's artillery is limited to bow and arrows.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • She essayed to introduce Gracie; not one of them attempted a bow.

  • "But they must be sorry folk to bow down to the rich in such a fashion," said big John.

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • It is a Scotch bow, I see, for the upper nock is without and the lower within.

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

British Dictionary definitions for bow


  1. to lower (one's head) or bend (one's knee or body) as a sign of respect, greeting, assent, or shame
  2. to bend or cause to bend; incline downwards
  3. (intr ; usually foll by to or before) to comply or acceptbow to the inevitable
  4. (tr ; foll by in, out, to etc) to usher (someone) into or out of a place with bows and deferencethe manager bowed us to our car
  5. (tr; usually foll by down) to bring (a person, nation, etc) to a state of submission
  6. bow and scrape to behave in an excessively deferential or obsequious way
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  1. a lowering or inclination of the head or body as a mark of respect, greeting, or assent
  2. take a bow to acknowledge or receive applause or praise
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See also bow out

Word Origin

Old English būgan, related to Old Norse bjūgr bent, Old High German biogan to bend, Dutch buigen


  1. a weapon for shooting arrows, consisting of an arch of flexible wood, plastic, metal, etc bent by a string (bowstring) fastened at each endSee also crossbow
    1. a long slightly curved stick across which are stretched strands of horsehair, used for playing the strings of a violin, viola, cello, or related instrument
    2. a stroke with such a stick
    1. a decorative interlacing of ribbon or other fabrics, usually having two loops and two loose ends
    2. the knot forming such an interlacing; bowknot
    1. something that is curved, bent, or arched
    2. (in combination)rainbow; oxbow; saddlebow
  2. a person who uses a bow and arrow; archer
  3. US
    1. a frame of a pair of spectacles
    2. a sidepiece of the frame of a pair of spectacles that curls round behind the ear
  4. a metal ring forming the handle of a pair of scissors or of a large old-fashioned key
  5. architect part of a building curved in the form of a bowSee also bow window
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  1. to form or cause to form a curve or curves
  2. to make strokes of a bow across (violin strings)
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Word Origin

Old English boga arch, bow; related to Old Norse bogi a bow, Old High German bogo, Old Irish bocc, and bow 1


  1. mainly nautical
    1. (often plural)the forward end or part of a vessel
    2. (as modifier)the bow mooring line
  2. rowing short for bowman 2
  3. on the port bow nautical within 45 degrees to the port of straight ahead
  4. on the starboard bow nautical within 45 degrees to the starboard of straight ahead
  5. a shot across someone's bows informal a warning
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Word Origin

C15: probably from Low German boog; related to Dutch boeg, Danish bov ship's bow, shoulder; see bough


  1. Clara, known as the It Girl . 1905–65, US film actress, noted for her vivacity and sex appeal
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bow


Old English bugan "to bend, to bow down, to bend the body in condescension," also "to turn back" (class II strong verb; past tense beag, past participle bogen), from Proto-Germanic *bugon (cf. Dutch buigen, Middle Low German bugen, Old High German biogan, German biegen, Gothic biugan "to bend," Old Norse boginn "bent"), from *beugen, from PIE root *bheug- (3) "to bend," with derivatives referring to bent, pliable, or curved objects (cf. Sanskrit bhujati "bends, thrusts aside;" Old High German boug, Old English beag "a ring"). The noun in this sense is first recorded 1650s. Related: Bowed; bowing. Bow out "withdraw" is from 1942.

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weapon for shooting arrows, Old English boga "archery bow, arch, rainbow," from Proto-Germanic *bugon (cf. Old Norse bogi, Old Frisian boga, Dutch boog, German Bogen "bow;" see bow (v.)). The sense of "a looped knot" is from 1540s. The musician's bow (1570s) formerly was curved like the archer's. Bowlegged is attested from 1550s.

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"front of a ship," mid-14c., from Old Norse bogr or Middle Dutch boech "bow of a ship," literally "shoulder (of an animal)," the connecting notion being "the shoulders of the ship." See bough.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with bow


In addition to the idioms beginning with bow

  • bow and scrape
  • bowl of cherries, life is just a
  • bowl over
  • bow out

also see:

  • take a bow
  • two strings to one's bow
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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.